WT’s Cornette Library to Celebrate 50 Years with Feb. 13 Reception

Brad Newman Feb 07, 2024
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WT’s Cornette Library to Celebrate 50 Years with Feb. 13 Reception

Contact: Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124,
Copy by Brad Newman


CANYON, Texas — For 50 years, the James and Mary Elizabeth Cornette Library has anchored West Texas A&M University’s campus, a sanctum for studying, learning and exploring for students and community members alike.  

The library celebrates its half-century milestone with an 11 a.m. Feb. 13 reception in the library atrium on WT’s campus in Canyon.

“An academic library is the heart of a university,” said Shawna Kennedy-Witthar, director of information and library resources. “And here, we strive to be that place, where everyone can find what they need and have a place.” 

The reception will include a performance by the library’s book cart drill team, the Cartigans, as well as cake, Buffalo cookies and more.

Speakers will include WT President Walter V. Wendler; Kennedy-Witthar; Sidnye Johnson, head of special collections and University archives; and Dr. Jim Cornette, son of the library’s namesakes and professor emeritus of mathematics at Iowa State University.

“WT has maintained the vitality of that library,” Cornette said. “It’s still such a viable place for students.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, a year-long exhibit on the library’s first level showcases the evolution of WT's library history.

WT has had a library space since it opened in 1910. The institution's first library, from 1910 to 1914, was in the school’s Administration Building, which was destroyed in 1914 by fire.

From 1916 until 1952, the library was housed in Old Main. And for the next 22 years, the library was located adjacent to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. (The building was annexed to the museum in 1986.)

Artifacts from those previous locations are on display in the first-floor exhibit, including original bookcases, archived catalogue materials, and a section of a stained-glass window. The current library opened in 1974—a 88,900-square-feet facility in the center of WT’s campus.

The library is named for James and Mary Elizabeth Cornette; James Cornette was WT's third president, serving from 1948 until 1973, a year before the new library opened.

Cornette’s 25-year tenure at WT was marked by significant expansion, both in enrollment and, subsequently, in campus construction. The Cornette Library was among one of those additions.

The library currently houses more than 304,000 print book titles and nearly 15,000 print serial titles, primarily journals and newspapers.

One of the library's most prestigious—yet lesser-known—features is the Texas Poets’ Corner, an impressive collection of rare books, artwork, and furniture on the library’s second floor.

The space was established in 2003 with a $2.8 million estate gift by the late Dr. Jenny Lind Porter Scott, a former Texas Poet Laureate and WT assistant professor of English. Among the items on display is the original handwritten manuscript of O. Henry’s short story, “A Fog in Santone,” a grand piano dating to the 1870s, and a lithograph portrait of William Shakespeare displayed at the World's Fair in 1853.

The library also boasts extensive electronic resources.

“Technology has changed so much,” said Kennedy-Witthar, who has served as the library's director since 2010, but first joined the library staff in 1993. “I remember when we got the Internet.” A state-of-the-art digital hub—the recently renamed Marmaduke Internet Innovation Center—occupies the library basement, connecting visitors to near-limitless resources.

To manage the vast collection, the library typically employs 27 full-time staff members, plus student workers.

The library’s purpose extends beyond providing materials, though. “When you hear ‘library,’ you think books,” said Kelly Hoppe, the library’s associate director and head of outreach and instruction. “But the services that the library provides is so much more than that.”

From movie nights and poetry slams to cookie decorating and gaming contests, the library offers a variety of events aimed at supporting students throughout the year.

“It’s opportunities to be in a safe place and de-stress,” Hoppe said. “They can connect with others.

“There is more to the library than many people realize,” Hoppe continued. “There’s a place for everyone here.”

Cornette Library provides access to intellectual resources, a key maxim of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic One West comprehensive fundraising campaign, which reached its initial $125 million goal 18 months after publicly launching in September 2021. The campaign’s new goal is to reach $175 million by 2025; currently, it has raised more than $150 million.



About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs and more than 40 graduate degrees, including two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.